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Artificial intelligence fuels visions of how smart future can be

Chinese Go player Ke Jie analyses the game after the second match against artificial intelligence program AlphaGo in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang province, May 25, 2017.(Xinhua/Xu Yu)

BEIJING, May 29 (Xinhua) -- It might arouse complicated and mixed feelings among human beings, when AlphaGo on Saturday grabbed the laurels from the world's top-ranked Go player Ke Jie with the artificial intelligence (AI) program's three-winning streak in the ancient Chinese board game.

AlphaGo's victory has been hailed as a landmark for the development of AI, as Go (Encirclement Chess), dating back to thousands of years ago, has been claimed as the most complex board game in the human world.

Now, the world-class computer program has been thrust into global limelight, as technologies behind AlphaGo push visions of how creative future can be. AI would not only be utilized for more general purposes in human life, but will also shake up the landscapes of a range of industries from e-commerce to healthcare.

WHAT'S BEHIND ALPHAGO

Professionals and spectators described as "unorthodox" many of the moves made by AlphaGo in its first of the three games against Ke Jie on May 23.

"There was a 'cut' that stunned me, because human players would never use the move (under that circumstance)," said Ke Jie in a press conference after the contest. "But after analyzing the game, I think it's a smart move that killed two birds with one stone."

AI basically relies on algorithms and big data, according to Luo Jiebo, professor of computer science at the University of Rochester. AlphaGo uses a type of search algorithm to find its moves based on the knowledge it previously "learned" by a type of AI called deep learning, or neural networks that mimic human learning, through playing a large number of games with both humans and machines.

This time, Ke Jie confronted with a newly upgraded version of AlphaGo bettered by reinforcement learning, which enables AlphaGo to sort out the best solution on its own.

"AlphaGo has played numerous games. With vast quantities of data, it would quickly learn effective moves," said Luo, "Besides, the machine doesn't have the intuition to defend like a human does. All it wants is to get the maximum rewards... Its calculation is based on an assessment of the interests of the whole situation."

Luo held that owing to deep learning, AI has improved remarkably in its capability to identify visuals and recognize voices after gobbling up a huge mass of data.

He added that so far in China, face detection and recognition has been applied successfully in practical terms, which relies largely on the combination of deep learning and big data.

"Currently many Chinese companies, big or small, are making face recognition programs. Because of the fierce competition, they have to constantly update their technologies and allow them to appear in our daily life, for example applications used for online banks and for company employees to check in," the professor said.

AI TO ENTER TRADITIONAL INDUSTRIES

AI has also been widely applied in various fields from e-commerce to finance.

At present, AI researchers are committed to efforts to allow more enterprises and ordinary users to participate in the field of AI by providing practical products and services, Li Feifei, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Stanford Vision, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

E-commerce giants, such as Amazon and Alibaba, have used a form of machine learning in their online recommender systems to boost sales, which is based on data collected from customers' browsing and purchasing preferences.

Alibaba will roll out facial recognition payment software in the near future. According to a video demonstrating the payment system, shoppers can complete payment by scanning their faces and imputing the last four digits of their mobile phone numbers.

Meanwhile, it has been widely acknowledged that global tech giants at the front end of AI exploration have ramped up research and development in AI applications designed to make human life smarter in a variety of fields including health care, autonomous driving and smart robotics.

One of the most anticipated sectors is health care. Researchers have claimed that AI software would be likely to serve as an experienced assistant by helping doctors sift through loads of patient information and accumulate clinical data and experience for better disease diagnosis, such as cancer diagnosis and the recognition of magnetic resonance imaging.

"In the medical field, AI can learn from cases from around the world, at which it excels. However, a doctor can only gain experience from the cases he has seen, which has limits," said Luo.

Elaborating on his blueprint, Li Yanhong, CEO of Chinese Internet giant Baidu, predicted that AI would be the "main course" for the future, calling the Internet "the appetizer," in a speech during the 2017 Baidu Union Summit held in southwest China's Chongqing City on May 23.

"In the age of AI, machines will be able to understand humans and their intentions, and thus allow humans to communicate all kinds of subjects," Li explained during the speech.

JOBS ON EDGE OR BETTER FUTURE

However, it has sparked huge concerns that AI would shake up traditional industries by slashing hordes of jobs.

At present, some lenders and financial institutions in the United Stateshave used AI underwriting and loan-distributing machines in replace of humans.

"The machines can decide whether and how much to lend, as well as how long the lending would be with a wealth of data," said Luo Jiebo, "The decision made by machines are more accurate and without human bias."

Kai-Fu Lee, computer scientist and founder of Sinovation Ventures, had echoed the status quo and made a bold prediction in a commencement speech to Columbia University's engineering department on May 15.

"In the next 10 years, all financial companies will be turned upside-down, with AI replacing traders, bankers, accountants, research analysts, and insurance companies," he said, "Last year, my AI investment algorithm returned 8 times more than my private banker."

In Luo's opinion, although unemployment caused by AI would be inevitable, it should not be viewed negatively because machines are not on the opposite side of humans. "There must be new jobs turning up. For example, machines need (people) to maintain," he said.

He gave the example of the use of AI in healthcare. "AI will make doctors' work easier, as machines process preliminary information. But it is humans who make critical and final decisions," he said, "That's because machines would only consider things that humans order them to."

"I think the ultimate purpose of AI is not to replace humans, but rather to co-exist with humans and achieve common prosperity, which is the right direction (for the development of AI)," Luo stressed.

[ Editor: Liu Jiaming ]